A Chain is only as strong as its weakest link
Indeed this holds true for your supply chain as well. A fact that has been painfully experienced by purchasing departments and engineers all over the world for the past years. The semiconductor shortage has cost companies hundreds of billions, and has put the spotlight on how vulnerable and complex the supply chain for electronics is.
In this blog post, we discuss how an ASIC – your very own semiconductor – can drastically reduce the number of vulnerabilities in your supply chain, and increase control over the ones that remain. Transitioning to ASIC technology can reduce risks, maintenance and cost of your product, and increase your control over the supply chain.
Mitigation by Elimination
A typical circuit board
Imagine a typical circuit board. Let’s assume one of low complexity – 60 BOM rows (i.e. 60 different part types) divided as 10 ICs, 20 other active components and 30 passives. Each component type becomes a link in the chain.
If a single link breaks, production will halt. For instance a component that cant be purchased. Fortunately there are often many identical links to choose from. If your 10 kohm 0603 resistor is unavailable, chances are high that you will find a drop-in replacement.
Finding replacements becomes more difficult as the complexity of the part increases. Most PCB assemblies have a couple of critical components that are impossible to replace without a significant redesign in both hardware and software.
A circuit board with an ASIC
The typical custom ASIC is designed to remove many discrete components. It is not uncommon for an ASIC to replace hundreds of discrete components. So, if we can remove 40 BOM rows by using an ASIC we replace 40 separate links with a single one. This removes 39 points of failure, a huge accomplishment.
When deciding which functions to place in an ASIC, critical components are often prioritized in order to make the end product as resilient as possible. In many cases the resulting design consists only of an ASIC and a couple of passive components.
This means that you have not only removed 39 arbitrary points of failure – you have taken care to remove the most critical ones.
What are the risks?
There are many reasons as for why a component becomes unavailable. The three most common ones are:
- Supply issues. This has been a huge problem for the majority of companies the last few years – to the extent that major news outlets regularly report on the semiconductor shortage.
- EOL – End of Life. You are always at the mercy of your component suppliers to keep supporting and producing your component. A typical product can need several revisions during its lifetime to replace components that have been discontinued.
- New Revisions. Component suppliers regularly release new revisions of components with changes. At a minimum these need to be analyzed to make sure that the design is still okay. New revisions can also lead to significant redesigns.
Let’s see how transitioning to an ASIC gives you control. New component revision? Not unless you decide to update your ASIC. End of Life? You decide when to kill your own device. When the manufacturing process is ultimately retired, you can order a sufficient quantity of ASIC wafers, and place in storage for your future needs.
We do however need to account for the risk that our ASIC becomes unavailable due to manufacturing issues. The same manufacturing steps are needed for a custom ASIC and a commercial part: the silicon die does not care if you designed it yourself. So, you are not adding supply chain risks by transitioning to an ASIC. And the good news is that you are now in control of the associated supply chain risks.
With your own ASIC you take control over the semiconductor supply chain. You can choose subcontractors, adapt to changes, and employ the risk mitigations that fit your organization needs.
The Semiconductor Supply Chain
Producing a semiconductor device
The manufacturing chain for semiconductors is one of the most complex things in the world. And the wafer manufacturing foundries often cost billions of dollars and are only one part of the supply chain. A later blog post is planned to describe the supply chain in more detail – from masks through wafer manufacturing, packaging, testing and so on.
During manufacturing, semiconductors travel around the world passing through machines costing hundreds of millions of dollars. This has worked surprisingly well despite the inherent vulnerabilities, which are exacerbated by LEAN-like flows reducing stock for contingencies to a minimum.
However, the last few years of increasing polarization, conflicts, and global disruptions has exposed the weaknesses with catastrophic consequences for companies.
ShortLink Supply Chain
For the last 25 years, ShortLink has gradually mastered the semiconductor supply chain. We consider the supply chain from the very start of every ASIC development project. We work with foundries and subcontractors all over the world, and can offer production in Europe, USA, and different parts of Asia depending on customer needs.
Our experience and expertise can help you control your supply chain to help you mitigate your supply chain risk. In addition to that we also have discrete hardware engineers that can help you with board redesigns to handle component shortages and find alternative components
Take Control of your Supply Chain
An ASIC allows you to greatly simplify and take control of your supply chain. Using a custom ASIC gives you a big advantage compared to your competitors that solely rely on commercial parts. We can help you eliminate a lot of future headaches by removing suppliers and dependencies with a single ASIC. And we have discrete hardware engineers that can help you with board redesigns to handle component shortages and find alternative components.
Your solution might be an ASIC – we can help you find out.